Tooth chipping can reveal the diet and bite forces of fossil hominins

Paul J. Constantino, James J.W. Lee, Herzl Chai, Bernhard Zipfel, Charles Ziscovici, Brian R. Lawn, Peter W. Lucas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mammalian tooth enamel is often chipped, providing clear evidence for localized contacts with large hard food objects. Here, we apply a simple fracture equation to estimate peak bite forces directly from chip size. Many fossil hominins exhibit antemortem chips on their posterior teeth, indicating their use of high bite forces. The inference that these species must have consumed large hard foods such as seeds is supported by the occurrence of similar chips among known modern-day seed predators such as orangutans and peccaries. The existence of tooth chip signatures also provides a way of identifying the consumption of rarely eaten foods that dental microwear and isotopic analysis are unlikely to detect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-829
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - 23 Dec 2010


  • Dentition
  • Dietary reconstruction
  • Fracture
  • Hominid


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